Wednesday, February 6, 2013

More on Renting Flats in Pune

Real estate brokers in India work differently than they do back home. Anyone can become a broker - there are no classes or exams, no ethics or fiduciary duty to either seller or buyer. There is no listing service used by all brokers in an area so everyone has the same inventory to work with, along with their exclusive listings.Every person you meet has a brother, uncle or cousin who is a realtor, and when you deal with only one, all you see are the flats that he personally knows about.

I contacted my friends in Pune, talked to my office and asked for recommendation. Each gave me the number to the "only honest realtor in Pune". I contacted them all and visited several high rise flats. I had told each one that I was looking for a flat that would accept two dogs, was fully furnished, and preferably a gym and a pool. We wanted something close to the office that was also nearby a retail center. Most of the realtors told me, "oh, I just had one that was perfect for you, but this is what I have now". The flats were okay, nothing special. I concentrated by search in Wanowrie, a little farther away. We kept looking, and after seeing some decent flats and some horrible ones, the last one was something called a "row house", similar to a duplex back home. Designed by an architect in Singapore, it definitely has a Singaporean aesthetic to it. Badly in need of paint, the house had been empty for more than a year as the owner only wanted to lease it to vegetarians. The son had recently gotten involved and was determined to rent it out. We showed up just in time.

Realtors in India demand at lease a month's rent from both the renter and the seller, some two months each. Each year that you renew the lease the realtors come back again for the fee. If you negotiate your lease agreement for more than 11 months, they double their fee. The good thing is that you can negotiate this down. We settled on a two month's fee for a two year lease. The agent had wanted two months per year. The agent states that he handles all the moving in issues, getting the police clearance, arranging the cooking gas, etc. during the lease time frame. We'll see. This agent was pretty good, though. He had plenty of inventory to show me, and they most closely matched what I was looking for.

The place is paradise. There are three huge bedrooms plus servant quarters and features a beautiful landscaped yard. Perfect for the dogs, who will be arriving next week. The backyard has a heavily laden coconut palm, a pomegranate tree heave with fruit, a mango tree, banana trees and some kind of citrus. All that's missing is pineapples. Every house plant I ever had in the states, from colorful freesia and frangipani, to mother-in-law's tongue, poinsettia and spider plants, is planted in my backyard as hedges, shrubs, and small trees. The white marble outdoor patio is ample enough for a table and chairs. The kitchen is huge, but could use more storage space (we'll work that out soon). The living room has a double height ceiling keeping the space very cool, even in the heat of the day. The only other thing we need to do is buy a washing machine.

The last issue is getting the dogs down from Delhi. My partner is still at our house in Delhi and closing the place down. She's buying the dog crates to fit them and visiting the vets to get their "healthy to fly" certificates. Her round-trip ticket will cost 16,000 rupees, while the dogs' one-way flight will cost 10,000. The tickets are booked and they arrive next Saturday. The car is booked to receive them, so the family will finally be together again, the first time since early December. That's a very, very good thing. :-)


More Driveway

Front Door. We've already been locked out twice.

Backyard from the Driveway

Triple sliding doors to backyard

Front Yard

Upstairs Hallway

Looking down from the upstairs hallway to the double-height living room


Front Yard

Doorway to backyard from upstairs

Front Doorway

Monday, February 4, 2013

The Adventures of the FRO (Foreigners' Registration Office)

My family has experienced the pain and frustration of four FROs (or FRROs - Foreigners' Regional Registration Office) in Kolkata, Gurgaon, Delhi, and now Pune. Pune is, by far, the best. 

In India, long term visitors to India are required to register with the office within 14 days. In Kolkata, my office manager and I visited the FRRO on AJC Bose Road. The first time, we went with my passport and entered a dilapidated office building, signed in, and walked into an air conditioned office. There were four desks in the anteroom with stacks of papers and a few chairs for visitors. The woman we talked to wrote out a list of documents and told us to come back tomorrow. Each time we returned, the list changed or the paperwork was missing some wording. After 90 days, I was no closer to getting the residency permit. I spoke to my CEO who hired a gent who had experience with foreigner registration, and he accompanied me to the office. He gallantly strode in, flirted with the ladies, shook the hands of the gents, and 60 seconds later, I had a stamped residency permit book in my hand. Brilliant.

When we moved to Gurgaon, we tried to simply change our existing Employment visa to the new company I was joining. We decided to go to the Home Ministry (also known as the Ministry of Home Affairs) with my HR manager. We spent the whole day there. The HR manager as hit on by a Nigerian gent, a creepy NRI with a cheap british accent who continually played with his belly button kept bothering us, and eventually we were told to leave the country. The Brit shook his head and said, "Man, I can't get out of this country. I have to bike back to the bloody Punjab to get a police clearance, and these people want to stay? Not bloody fair, man." So we went home to the States and got new visas.

That's when the fun begins. In Gurgaon, the FRRO is located at the Mini-Secretariat at Rajiv Chowk. The moldy, old building with cracked and crumbling paint and stucco featured slow moving, whiny fans and papers were stacked to the ceilings, neatly tied in stacks with twine. The elevator has never worked. Back in 2008, the FRRO was located at the top of the building so be prepared to walk up quite a few flights of stairs. I believe it's now down a few floors and have some paper-based numbering system for people waiting now. Beggars plant themselves at the base of the stairs. Shoeshiners, chaabiwallahs (key makers), and other small children ply their trade within the building selling goods. It's sheer torture. Standing around, waiting for hours to get someone to review the paperwork and make a decision. Each time you go, the paperwork differs. It took around 90 days again, with numerous trips to get the paperwork done. Extensions were even worse.

Because my job required me to travel internationally numerous times a year, my paperwork had to be in order for me to leave the country. My first extension took over seven months. The companies I worked for never offered an agent, nor did I know where to find one.  The company kept arguing with me, blaming me for not getting it done, even though I had absolutely no control over the situation. They'd send different staff from the company with me assuming a local could make the difference. They tried everything, bribes, pleading, gratitude, while I demanded, argued and cried in frustration. They'd say come back in a week, that the paperwork was still in Chandigarh. We'd go every week, or I'd send my son by himself. Once, after they said the paperwork had returned, we thought we were finally done, then they sprung a new surprise on us. We now needed a local police clearance. I could have stabbed that man in the heart. I was SO pissed. My son, accompanied by a member of my staff, visited the police numerous times, bribed and ingratiated themselves until that paper was received, delivered to the FRRO, where they said I had to be there to take the papers. I went back the next day to pick them up and they said my son had to be there, too! Unbelievable. What the hell did they think they were giving me? I blew up. I swore at them, yelled at them. I told him that my son was a minor and as his parent (proven in the paperwork by birth certificate) I had legal right to act as his agent in any aspect of his life…blah, blah, blah. Finally they relented and gave me the damn stamps and papers. It took nine months. For the second one-year extension. Every year it was like this.

When I joined Sannam S4, run by Brits, they immediately hired a professional agent to handle my residency permit. He was AWESOME. He sent me all the paperwork to fill out by email, told what I had to scan, and I emailed back all the documents. We met up early one morning at his club and he brought everything printed out for me and my son to review and sign. He accompanied us to the Delhi FRO and took us around to each of the desks, we smiled and waved, and within a half hour, we were out of there. We had our papers in three days. It cost us 7,000 rupees each. What a difference an agent makes.

In Pune, the FRO is located at the Police Commissioner House. Foreigner's go through the Foreigner Gate (Gate #2). For extensions, the hours are 10:00 to 12:00 noon. New permits are scheduled for 3:00 to 5:00 PM. You enter through a small door in a heavily fortified metal gate, then run the security gamut: handing over your bags for searching, then signing in, going through a metal detector, and another bag screening just inside the building. To the left is the FRO, an air conditioned space. At reception, you'll be told what counter to line up for. The agent goes through your papers and confirms everything is there. We were missing the stamp on our C-Form from the hotel, so we were told to come back tomorrow. We got the right papers and headed back the next day. After the same woman confirmed our paperwork, we were sent to another line where a woman entered all of our data into a computer. After that, we were sent to scan all the documents, then to another agent to get photos taken, fingerprinted and had to electronically sign all the documents. They told us to come back one week later. We did. Mine as not ready. We talked to the police inspector and he told us to come back at 5:30 the next day. This time, we took one of my staff, who spoke Marathi, with us. 

When we got there, the door was closed and we were refused entry, them saying that the office was closed.. My Marathi-speaking colleague talked our way in, where it took us about 20 minutes to get the permits. More modern, professional, fast service… much better than other cities. Only issue? Now that we're settling in to our new home, we have to go back and update our files with the new address. Still waiting on a new police clearance - a stamped C-Form to bring with the signed lease. This may be where the torture starts… we'll know soon enough.